CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Even after his shot bounced high off a concrete bridge over a creek, Kevin Kisner wasn’t in the clear at the PGA Championship.
His golf ball was buried in thick grass on a hill above the water. As he looked across to the 18th green at Quail Hollow, wondering how he could even keep it on the green, a leaderboard reminded him of how many players were suddenly in the mix at the final major of the year.
Kisner managed to keep the damage to a minimum in a calamity-filled final hour Saturday.
More importantly, he managed to keep the lead.
Two holes after hitting into the water on No. 16 to lose a two-shot lead, Kisner chopped out of the cabbage-like lie to the other side of the 18th green, then navigated a super slick 45-foot putt to close range to escape with bogey and a 1-over 72, giving him a one-shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama and Chris Stroud.
“I’m happy I’m in the position I’m in,” Kisner said. “I had a chance to run away from guys and take people out of the tournament that were four or five, six back. And I didn’t do it. Now I’m in a dogfight tomorrow, and I have to be prepared for that.”
If the closing stretch taught him something, it was to prepare for anything.
Jason Day can attest to that. He wasted a remarkable rally with a peculiar decision to hit a shot from behind a tree. His feet slipped on the pine straw and the ball wound up in a waist-high flower bed. What followed was a penalty drop, a shot to the rough, another short of the green and a quadruple-bogey 8 that most likely ended his chances. He shot 77 and was in no mood to discuss the round.
Stroud three-putted the last two holes for bogey, one from off the 17th green. He managed a 71 and was in the final group Sunday, not bad for a guy who wasn’t even eligible for the PGA Championship until he won his first PGA Tour event six days ago.
“It’s just a dream come true to be here,” he said.
Kisner had the lead going into the final round, a great spot to pursue his first major championship. He just doesn’t like what he sees in his rearview mirror, where the players are a lot closer than they once appeared.
Matsuyama made only one birdie and wasted two good scoring chances on the back nine. He had a dull finish, which on this day allowed him to make up ground.
With five consecutive pars at the end, he had a 73 and was one shot behind in his bid to deliver Japan its first major.
“I’m disappointed the way I played today,” Matsuyama said. “However, I’m happy to just to be one stroke back and still have a chance.”
Justin Thomas, the son of a PGA professional, had the right formula. He didn’t drop a shot over the last 12 shots and shot a 69 to finish just two shots behind along with Louis Oosthuizen, who saved par on the 18th with a bold shot for a 71.